A Chance Encounter

By Christine Smith

Orca at Wood Spit

Earlier in the day we were underway and heading into Holkham Bay with the intention of going for a hike on Wood Spit. Off in the distance, we spotted a couple of killer whales. They were moving fast and entering the bay. We tried to follow, but lost them as they swam quickly and entered the adjacent Endicott Arm. Jeffrey and I talked about the likelihood of seeing them again after our walk at Wood Spit.

So we anchored the David B, lowered Skiffy-a-saurus into the water, and off our group went for our walk. We poked around in tide pools and looked for bear tracks in the mud and sand. We entered the forest and felt the squish of thick moss on bear maintained trails. We identified plants and talked about ecology, and spotted a black bear.  At one point Jeffrey radioed me to say that Wilderness Ranger Chrissy was nearby and that we could meet up with her on the beach. After a little planning, we set out across the spit covered in shoulder-high ferns to meet Chrissy and talk about the wilderness area that was all around us.

While we were chit-chatting, we heard the distinct blow of a surfacing killer whale. It stopped all conversations. We watched mesmerized as two mammal-eating killer whales searched the bay for food. They came within 200 yards of the beach, and we were transfixed as they skirted shallows and searched icebergs. It was a beautiful encounter and we watched them swim round the end of the point. We thought it was the last we’d see of them…we were wrong.

We said our goodbyes to Ranger Chrissy and radioed for Jeffrey to come pick us up. On our way back to the David B, the whales surfaced next to us. For the next hour the whales showed us how to hunt seals. We sat in the skiff with the motor off. The whales swam in circles at times, or in straight lines. They alternated which one was at the surface. We watched them make a kill. Their speed and grace was amazing. It was pure nature and we got to watch. It was a chance encounter and another chance to discover more about a world we seldom see.

Orca leaving Wood Spit

Going Ashore in the Wilds of Alaska

Going ashore in AlaskaFrom the bow of the skiff, I watch for bears and submerged rocks as we close in on the beach. In the final moments before I hop out, Jeffrey cuts the motor and lifts its prop out of the water. The sandy beach greets the fiberglass with a scratchy hello. Jeffrey instructs our guests to sit back while I step ashore and pull the boat up a little higher. Our guests climb out of “Skiffy” and after a radio check, a quick chat about the pick-up time, and meal prep, I push Jeffrey and Skiffy back out into the water. He’ll be back in a few hours.

 

It’s quiet. We’re on the beach. No cars, no cell phones, no Wifi, no pressures. Just me, six people, and the wilderness.

 

We go ashore because the wilderness is a real place. It’s more than a backdrop of beauty to pass by balcony windows and outside decks of larger cruise ships. Yes, the David B, is a warm, cozy vessel for cruising in Alaska, but Jeffrey and I have a greater goal for the David B’s

cruises– to experience the wilderness, where it’s fresh, it’s clean, it’s wild. It’s a pAshore at Little Dawes Meadow in Alaskalace too few people know anymore, and at a time when nature and wilderness are what we need to find calm in our ragged, over-scheduled lives. No matter how addicted I am to my distracted wireless life during the off-season, (and trust me, I can’t leave my device alone when a connection is available,) I yearn deeply for my summer
months on the David B, with our guests, in the wilderness of southeast Alaska. It’s a place where we can squat down next to a tide pool and lose track of time watching the rhythmic motion of the tiny feathery appendages that barnacles sweep the water with, while hermit crabs fight, sea-stars hunt, and small fish dart with lightning speed for a safe haven between sponge encrusted rocks.

 

Reflection at a tide pool in AlaskaIf there were more people than just our small group it wouldn’t be the same, and our group size allows us to have permits to take people to really special places. Places that other boats with more than twelve passengers cannot take their guests. Places few people ever touch foot. Going ashore is where you feel the power of Alaska, its nature and the draw of wilderness. When I push back on the branches of a Sitka spruce and the thorny leaves of a Devil’s club, to open up a passage into an ancient forest where the trails are made only by bears and deer, I know we are truly stepping into the real Alaska. We are getting more than just pretty backdrop scenery on the way to the next town and t-shirt shop, and we’re experiencing a transformation in ourselves as the timelessness of the wilderness whispers of our ancient and lost connection to nature.

I hope to get to walk ashore with you this summer.

-Christine

Alaska Wilderness League Spotlights Jeffrey and Christine

Small Cruise Ship in Alaska
The David B at anchor in Fords Terror in the Tongass National Forest.

One of our favorite non-profits is the Alaska Wilderness League. They’ve worked tirelessly for years to promote the use of public lands for the benefit of the public in Alaska’s arctic and in the Tongass National Forest, which is near and dear to us as we spend most of our season cruising in and around the Tongass. For us, it is important to protect the Tongass. It’s where some of the last stands of old growth virgin forest thrives. Rivers in the Tongass National Forest run clear and clean and salmon come home to spawn. It’s a beautiful place of solitude and wilderness and it should be cherished for generations to come.

This week the Alaska Wilderness League spotlighted us in their newsletter, which is a big honor. Thank you AWL!

http://www.alaskawild.org/lovethetongass/

Alaska Wilderness League